Make Your Own Wooden Sign

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Some friends of mine have a cabin in the north woods with an out building for extra overnight guests to bunk up for the evening. It’s a great place to fall asleep on a moonlit night listening to the cooing owls and the foxes rustling through the brush. Both friends have a Swedish heritage so by committee we came up with a name for the bunkhouse and decided it needed a sign.

I got out a pen and paper, sketched several ideas, and came up with the sign you see here. I transferred my idea to a drawing program on the computer and enlarged it, and printed it out in two pages on a large printer. You can also print oversize images by going to www.documents.staples.com, uploading your design, and they’ll print it for you.

Another alternative, you can go a local print shop for help.


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When you have your design printed, mount it to your wood blank with a spray adhesive. I bought a cedar deck board, cut it to shorter lengths, and then ripped the rounded edges off with my tablesaw. Once the edges were jointed I glued and clamped the boards to make up the panel.


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To start routing, it’s a good idea to drill a 3/16” diameter hole the depth that you’re going to rout. This will let you drop your router into the hole without stressing the fragile bit. I’d do it this way even if I were using a plunge router. These 1/8” bits will only rout to a depth of 3/16” but I found that to be the perfect depth for this sign. Once you start routing, hold the router handles firmly and rest your forearms on the workpiece to stabilize the router. Move it slowly along the edge of your design. If you push it too fast, you’ll end up breaking the bit or burning the wood and overheating the bit.


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Use the 1/8” cutter only to define the shapes, not to remove all the waste. It took me about 30 minutes and two bits to rout around all the lettering and the shapes in this design. Then install the 1/4″ bit to remove more material faster. Be sure to set the depth of the bit to exactly the same depth as the 1/8” cutter.


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Routing with the 1/4″ bit goes much faster but you’ll still need to keep your forearms on the workpiece to stabilize the router to keep it from wandering during a climb cut. Go slow and steady to widen the area and work your way into the background of the design. I finished the routing using the ¼” straight bit, but you could also switch to a 3/4″ diameter bit if you have a lot of background to remove. Just remember to plan ahead and leave enough unrouted material to keep the router base stable. An upcut spiral router bit will work well for this project. Have a shop vacuum handy to clean up the debris from time to time.


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When the routing is complete, go back and check for any spots you might have missed. We’ll be using a Dremel tool later to clean up any rough edges.


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Removing the remaining paper is easy. Just soak the paper with acetone or lacquer thinner and peel it off with an old chisel or putty knife. Let the wood dry before the next step.


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Cut the outer oval shape with your jigsaw or band saw. Clean up the edges of the lettering with a Dremel rotary tool outfitted with a small drum sander. You’ll also need to do a little hand sanding in tight areas.


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After the initial painting, I decided to give the background a unifying texture with a burr bit (Dremel #134) in horizontal strokes. The effect left a more “hand-carved” appearance.


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I gave the foreground of the design a second coat of enamel paint. I purchased small amounts of paint from a local hobby store.


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To make the sign larger and give it a rustic feel, I glued up another panel made from 3/4″ thick cedar boards. I cut the edges to simulate a roughhewn look and then textured the cedar with a stiff wire wheel attached to the drill. The bristles wear away the early wood and leave a very weathered aged look to the surface. Once that was complete, I screwed the main sign to the backer from behind and then gave the whole sign two coats of spar varnish over the painted and unpainted parts. The spar varnish will seal it and protect it from moisture and UV rays.


You can rout keyholes on the back or just screw some picture hanging hardware on the backside to mount it to a wall or hang it with rope or chain from above.

Discussion
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17 Responses to “Make Your Own Wooden Sign”
  1. Mark

    That looks great David. Thanks for showing the technique. I make similar signs, but I cheat with a CNC machine. I thought that George had one.

    Reply
  2. Kip

    This is cool but when you have a CNC machine this is not going to happen. I could do this on my CNC 30 minutes

    Reply
  3. Bob Mayfield

    VERY NICE! Perfect for our Wisconsin deer hunt going on now. I may have to use that design and make one. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  4. John

    Very nice technique for those of us who don’t have a CNC machine. Can’t wait to try it.

    Reply
  5. john glenn

    Great sign and will be doing one shortly. I see a lot of “woodworkers?” use CNC machines, take the artistry out of woodworking by letting a machine to the work. I enjoy doing woodworking and do not let a machine do it for me.

    Reply
  6. Michael

    That is very well made. looking forward to making my own sign now. Thank you.

    Reply
  7. IVAMAY

    Awesome, I’ve been struggling with a project for awhile now, nothing looked right, however, I do believe you just gave me the answer I needed to get this this done & my friend will FINALLY have their birthday present THIS YEAR!

    Reply